Today’s skiers and snowboarders expect a high quality recreational experience. The prime ingredient is a well-groomed snow surface on ski slopes. Slope grooming has become a standard practice in any modern ski & snowboard resort! The relatively recent expectation by guests to enjoy artificial snow surfaces in the form of terrain parks and halfpipes has raised the bar of snow grooming to a new level!
It is the intent of this article to familiarize our guests with the Mt. Shasta Ski Park’s grooming fleet, the philosophy of our grooming and our nightly grooming schedule. We also hope that this information will help the reader to gain a better understanding of the complexities of snow grooming. After all it is human ingenuity and technology, which attempts to match nature’s vagaries. The snow surface in an alpine realm is forever changing and conditions do exist that despite the use of the best grooming equipment the grooming surface may not always be perfect.
In response to this new challenge of optimizing slope grooming the Mt. Shasta Ski Park is proud to maintain a state of the art grooming fleet consisting of 8 snow cats and a new halfpipe grinder. Two of the cats in our grooming fleet are specialized cats. One of them is our recently purchased Bombardier BR 350 grooming snow cat. Bombardier – a leader in snow cat manufacturing, has developed the new BR 350 snow cat, which retails for $220,000. The BR 350 is the ultimate grooming and snow-moving system. It performs with greater efficiency, increased reliability, enhanced performance and is easier to operate. The cat has 345 horsepowers, weighs 11,552 lbs. and reaches a top speed of 11.5 mph. This snow cat features a computer, which interfaces between the machine and the driver. Literally with the move of a finger the driver of the cat can steer the equipment while moving the tiller and/or the plowing blade. The processor allows for a more efficient operation of the machine and in certain snow conditions for faster speeds.
Our second specialized snow cat is called a winch cat. While descending down ski runs skiers and snowboarders constantly scrape snow downhill thus decreasing a ski run’s snow depth.
Particularly on steep hills and during low snow years the operation of this specialized cat helps to counter this snow erosion. The winch cat is attached to a cable, which in turn is anchored to another cat, or a fixed anchor stationed at the top of the respective slope. A winch system mounted on the cat allows the cat to groom uphill even on the steepest slopes and thus is able to move snow up the slope by using its blade.
The other 6 snow cats in our fleet are used for the grooming of ski runs and the moving of snow for lift terminal ramps and other areas, which are in need of snow and for our terrain parks.
On a typical non-night skiing day groomers will start at 4:00 pm or at 10:00 pm or midnight on night skiing days. With a grooming fleet of 4 cats on the hill it takes an average 8.5 hours to groom all the runs. Due to the technological breakthrough and the associated introduction of “fat skis” management will purposely leave some runs ungroomed to offer bump & powder surfaces. One of the 4 cats is busy every night to reshape or reconstruct the snow features in our “Revolution” Terrain Park and our SUPER halfpipe. On weekends and holidays traditionally 100% of the ski runs and Nordic trails will be groomed whereas during weekdays grooming is limited to 80% of the runs. At a minimum 100% of the beginner, novice and intermediate terrain will be groomed every night. In addition we provide selected courtesy grooming before the start of night skiing shift.
The snow cat technology alone does not guarantee great grooming. The equipment must be operated with great expertise by grooming personnel who have acquired a feeling for the operation of the blade and the tiller of the cat and who understand what the right grooming speed is considering the conditions at hand. The ski park employs Gabe Olson – a highly experienced snow groomer- as our grooming supervisor. Four experienced journeymen and 3 operators are entrusted with the operation of the ski park’s snow cat fleet. Despite the best grooming equipment available on the market today and the expertise of our cat drivers grooming in certain climatic conditions can be challenging. . Keep in mind that diligent cat drivers were still out there all night in with sometimes no visibility at all fighting fatigue, wind poor visibility white outs While there is an infinite number of permutations in the snowfall variables like how much snow per time unit, when does snowfall start, temperature variations, moisture content, affect of wind on temperature etc. During extreme storm conditions excessive snow depths (a pattern which is typical for the Mt. Shasta Ski Park) the amount of surface, which can be groomed during a shift, may be limited simply by the fact that the cats may not be able to climb. In those circumstances the cats are simply trying to keep open a single path to the top of each chairlift. These single paths then become the lifeline, which allows for grooming the remainder of the slope surface after the storm. Without that single path access to the top of the lift may be delayed until conditions change and climbing of the machine becomes again possible.The timing of the actual snowfall over night can also cause grooming shortcomings. Sometimes heavy snowfall in the early morning hours can put four or five new inches of snow on already groomed slopes. This ill-timing of snowfall during the night does not leave enough time for the grooming fleet before the opening of the resort for the day shift to groom these runs a second time. In these situations the untrained observer gets the false impression that no grooming may have occurred during the night at all. We just listed a handful of examples when slope grooming becomes a true challenge and there are many additional situations!
The Mt. Shasta Ski Park has made a huge capital investment in it’s grooming fleet and allotted a large labor force to provide you with the best snow surface possible for your recreational enjoyment!
The next time you encounter a situation in our ski resort when you deem the quality of grooming below your expected standard feel free to check with management on the specifics of the conditions during the night which resulted in the violation of your expectations. Getting the answers to such circumstances will help you further understand the adversities which can occur during a night of grooming. Your expertise in snow grooming will make you a Ski Park ambassador who can educate your friends when complex grooming conditions exist!